Thus spoke my fatherI have four brothers. Growing up, ours was a pretty noisy home, as you can imagine. But we all had one thing in common: our obsession with football. My father was a big football fan. He also played amateur football. I think he could have played professionally, but circumstances made him take another path in life. He had the physique and the talent for professional football. Two of my brothers, Andrei and Kolya became professional footballers like myself. We must have inherited our passion for football from our father. Not that he lectured us or in any way tried to influence our career choice. He just said: you’ve got to set yourself a goal and work hard towards it.
I wasn’t meant to be a new GagarinWhen I was very young I dreamed of one day becoming a cosmonaut. We grew up in a time when most boys dreamed of it. All the boys were little Gagarins. Later I changed my mind, deciding I wanted to be president. I wanted to be president to help people. This was before I turned five, at which point football came into my dreams.
Legs of the kitchen chairThere were no computer games or any of today’s amusements when my brothers and I grew up. Outdoor sports and games were pretty much it for the boys. Football was the ideal game, playable anywhere anytime. We would play and get in trouble when we broke some windows, we would set football juggling records (three, five, ten, one hundred, two hundred…). We would play between some trees in the yard, and we would play football at home. Our goal was the space between the legs of the kitchen chair. We would make bets: I would say I was going to score from seven steps away, and my brother would say he was going to do ten steps. We would compete, increasing the distance, arguing about whether the ball hit the chair legs or not.
These are fun memories. We would play football every spare minute of our time. I wouldn’t say I played any better than my brothers. I just went a little farther. Part of it must have been pure luck.
I have no need for superstitionsYou cannot get very far in football on luck alone. So it’s not a good idea to pin one’s hopes on luck. Many footballers have these systems of signs they believe in. Some of them have their sacred rituals, gestures or words they. I’ve seen some actual rites performed. Not actual rituals, mind you, but still. These kinds of superstitions are quite widespread in the football world, not just in Russia. I’m a Christian. I have no need for any superstitions. And especially no need to hide any talismans in special places.
Calling cardsI used to collect telephone calling cards. There were no cell phones back then. We would leave for team meets, travel to other cities and countries. I would call home from there and have long conversations with my family.
I had a pretty impressive card collection. Cards from Israel, Belgium, Spain, France… They looked nice. It’s like stamp collecting. Now it’s all in the past.
Nowadays few people will even remember what a calling card is. To me, though, calling cards are memories of my early years in football.
I believe that being a coach is a tougher job than being a footballer, but I know many would disagree.
Playing the field
It is certain that the coach has more responsibility. You realize that the game outcome rides on your shoulders. The coach is responsible for the success of the team . But once the game is on, it’s out of your hands. Then it’s all about the hands, no – the legs, of the players.
What we work forIn the job of a coach, the result is the be-all and end-all. What else is there to work for? So you use any means necessary to achieve the result you want. It is important for the coach to know when to make a joke for relief, when to be tough, when to take the rein in, and when to cut some slack. No two teams are alike.
I feel happyJournalists ask me weird questions sometimes. For example, “Can a footballer be a good family man?” I never thought these two things were mutually exclusive: playing football and having a family.
Family to me is all about education, wellness of the soul, inner harmony, feeling of joy… I feel really happy at this point in my life.
People call our family a team sometimes. Not a football team, but otherwise it’s true. We have seven kids and we have nary a dull moment. No one is seriously into football, but we all love sports. We practice sports for the soul and for harmonious development. It was never my plan to direct my children towards professional sports. Each will have to make their own career choice.
Daddy’s little girlsI frequently come up with my own tales to tell my kids at bedtime. Is there any other way to get them to sleep? You have to turn the light off so they fall asleep quicker, so you cannot read to them. Perforce you start making interesting stuff up.
My daughters like fairy tales, and I mean: tales about fairies. I summon up my imagination. I think up some plot that is more than just a sequence of events – it has to have a philosophical keynote and a lesson in love and kindness. That puts them to sleep in no time. I’m a pro at this by now. When I see that they’re all asleep, I go to bed, too.
Football on my mind
I had this dream… It was about football, as usual. To be frank, all my dreams are about football lately. No romance, no adventures, no great episodes. My dreams are about football technicalities, training methodology, tactics and game planning.
There’s a lot of football in my life. One time I decided to watch a football game as a spectator for a change. Didn’t work. Too much emotion, and my eye is just too well trained. Right away I start analyzing, calculating, comparing… These are professional habits, they won’t quit. And I don’t want them to quit. I like them.
Infantino’s rightWhen they told me they were making me a 2018 World Cup ambassador, this sounded very exciting. It’s a great honour to be an ambassador. Perhaps it is a sign of respect from the hosting party. In that case, I feel honoured. As a FIFA World Cup ambassador I will promote healthy living as well as football.
I’m positive that my country will do its very best to stage the World Cup impeccably well. I met some other ambassadors at the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup draw. I have to admit I feel honoured and elated to be in the company of these people, whom I respect very much. I met FIFA President Gianni Infantino. I had never met him before. He is such a nice person, very sincere, very affable. He believes that sports in general and football in particular should bring people together outside politics. I agree. He only had good things to say about Russia. Every country has its problems, including problems in the field of sports. Sports are big business nowadays. Wherever big money is involved, you get a lot of nuances, undertows and conflicting interests. Infantino is very pro-fair play, he believes in goodness of sports.
99% readyIt seems to me that we are 99% ready for the Confederations Cup. As for the World Cup, there’s still a lot of work to do. Some cities are almost fully ready, even though the World Cup is more than a year away.
I know every host city has a lot to offer. It’s important to do the welcome part right, but there’s no reason to doubt our volunteers. Russia has a really good volunteer movement. My oldest son wants to sign up to be a volunteer at FIFA World Cup 2018. I’m all for it – it’ll give him loads of experience.
I view the World Cup as a gift to our country. The infrastructure improvements are very impressive. This is also our chance to prove certain western mainstream media wrong on Russia when they paint it all black.
Tourist tips from Sergei SemakIn Kazan
• Make sure you tour the Kremlin, then take a boat ride on the Volga and the Kazanka.
• Take a walk down Ulitsa Baumana – this is Kazan’s version of Arbat in Moscow.
• Try the traditional Tatar snack of echpochmak. These are triangular dough pockets filled with meat, potatoes and onions.
In Saint Petersburg
• Visit Peterhof: you won’t regret it. Lots of impressions guaranteed..
• Walk up to the observation deck atop St. Isaac’s Cathedral. It’s a steep climb but it’s worth it.
• Take a boat ride on the rivers and canals, and try some koryushka: this is a seasonal local fish species available in spring and early summer.
• Rent a bike and take a bike lane tour of the city center.
• Walk the pedestrian lanes and take a photo by the Church of Christ Our Saviour.
• Walk to Patriarshiye Prudy neighbourhood and have dinner in a nice little restaurant.
Interviewed by Natalya Luchkina